Ohio History Journal

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Book Reviews

Book Reviews



The Frontier Republic: Ideology and Politics in the Ohio Country, 1780-1825.

By Andrew R.L. Cayton. (Kent: Kent State University Press, 1986. xii +

197p.; map, notes, essay on sources, index. $27.00.


The intellectual history of the early republic has undergone considerable

revival in recent years. Led by Bernard Bailyn at Harvard, whose The Ideo-

logical Origins of the American Revolution (1967) was a classic when pub-

lished, and continued by his pupil Gordon Wood of Brown University in the

highly acclaimed Creation of the American Republic, 1776-1787 (1969), we

have now reached the third generation of this school with Wood's student,

Andrew Cayton. The Ball State University professor carries the evolving po-

litical tradition of early United States across the Appalachian chain into

Ohio. In a splendid but all too brief study, Cayton provides an introduction

to this state's history that must be read by everyone seeking to understand

the origins of its political tradition.

Cayton discovers a continuity in the political debates of the new nation

and finds them divided into two camps: the first, normally associated with

Jeffersonian Republicanism, "emphasized the primacy of local sovereignty

and demanded the fullest expression of democratic rights;" while the sec-

ond, which dominated Federalist thought, sought "to bring regularity to

what they perceived to be a disordered society" through the introduction

of "strong institutions to arbitrate among and guide the interests of the citi-

zens of a national society marked by increasing pluralism and economic com-

plexity" (pp. x-xi). Cayton sees these early political clashes less in terms of

economic, ethno-cultural, or personality conflicts and more in competing ide-

ological differences.

Unlike earlier historians of the state's origins, Cayton does not see the con-

flict between such rivals as Arthur St. Clair and Thomas Worthington as bat-

tles between right and wrong, but rather as the halting attempts of honest

men seeking solutions to fundamental issues in a pluralistic, frontier society

where there was no political behavioral consensus. He refuses to see in the

Republicans the wave of the future, but instead notes approvingly that "the

Federalist emphasis on designing the world and governments to shape peo-

ple was as important in nineteenth-century Ohio as the Jeffersonian Republi-

can insistence on democratic elections" (p. 153). Thus he finds that both the

New England and Virginia traditions that impacted so strongly on early state

politics made significant and continuing contributions to Ohio's history.

For Cayton, the key event in early Ohio politics is the Panic of 1819. It

splintered the Republican assumption of a democratic society in natural har-

mony and reinforced the Federalist tradition of the clash of interests. It is at

this point that Cayton divides the Republican party into two factions-the

Old Republicans representing those opposed to institutional power to direct

society and the moderate Republicans who sought to avoid future panics

and social unrest by strengthening the institutions of government. Here

Cayton makes his weakest argument, for he does not really comprehend the

threefold division of the Republicans. His "moderates" are really divided